Sunday, June 27, 2021

REVIEW: A Study in Charlotte (book) by Brittany Cavallaro

A Study in Charlotte is a YA mystery, the first in a series (trilogy?). I bought my copy used.


Content warning for this book: rape, on-page drug use, eating disorder.

Jamie Watson is a descendant of the John Watson who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, and he's spent his whole life fantasizing about meeting Charlotte Holmes, the one descendant of Sherlock Holmes who's his age, and becoming her friend and sidekick. When he gets sent to Sherringford, an American prep school, the one bright spot he clings to is that it's the same school Charlotte attends. Unfortunately, he has no idea how to talk to her, and she doesn't seem at all interested in talking to him. Then a student they both hated is murdered in a way that references a Sherlock Holmes story, and they're the prime suspects.

I really wanted to love this. I'm drawn to Sherlock Holmes-inspired books (despite only having read a small fraction of the original stories) as well as YA mysteries, so this seemed perfect for me. Unfortunately, I really disliked how Cavallaro handled the Watson and Holmes aspect, particularly Jamie's attitude.

Jamie seemed to think that the Watson and Holmes friendship was something one could inherit, like eye color. He'd meet Charlotte, they'd instantly bond, and trust and loyalty would soon follow. When things didn't initially turn out like he'd expected, I'd hoped he'd learned his lesson. Unfortunately, then the murder happened, and he and Charlotte did spend a lot of time together and start to bond. And then it was like he felt he was owed all the rest, even though he and Charlotte had really only known each other for a few days/weeks.

Every time he stumbled across something Charlotte hadn't told him, he got upset because she hadn't trusted him with all of her secrets and whole life story. To be fair, Charlotte also annoyed me. After a certain point, she treated Jamie like his unquestioning loyalty was a given, no matter how much she kept from him or how often she lied. I suspect that she, too, had some ancestry-based expectations about their relationship.

I do generally like the kind of character dynamic Cavallaro set up - the brilliant but icy and emotionally damaged detective paired up with a supportive sidekick who reminds them to eat and hydrate. And Cavallaro did make an effort to present Charlotte and Jamie's relationship as something that had a bit of time to grow and deepen. I particularly liked hearing about the little things they did together when they weren't in the thick of investigating murders, like the time Jamie bought Charlotte a big bag of candy when he learned she'd never been allowed to have any.

Even so, their friendship bothered me a lot. It didn't help that supposedly Charlotte and Jamie were each other's first friends (this is debatable - I personally think Charlotte, at least, just couldn't recognize what friendship was, because Lena sure seemed like her friend to me). They both desperately needed something in their lives that had nothing to do with their famous ancestors' lives and experiences. Instead, they had family members who went out of their way to encourage them to be together and continue the Holmes and Watson family traditions.

The ending had an "everything but the kitchen sink" feel to it, complete with a villain monologue and dastardly time-sensitive deeds. I don't know - I kept thinking I'd have liked this book a lot more if Charlotte and Jamie had been written as a modern Holmes and Watson, but without the ancestral baggage and Holmes and Watson having existed as real people in their world. 

But even that probably wouldn't have fixed a few other aspects of the story that bothered me. For example, Charlotte's eating disorder, which I don't think was ever referred to that way. But what else do you call it when a person thinks it's perfectly normal and okay to have last eaten yesterday, and takes 20 minutes to eat a single almond when they do eat? She should have barely had the energy to move, and yet there were multiple scenes in which she was faster and more nimble than Jamie - her eating disorder was presented more like an amusing quirk than something that would have had actual physical consequences. Overall, here were a bunch of really heavy and serious aspects to Charlotte's history and behavior that I don't think were handled as well as they could have been.

This wasn't terrible and did have several enjoyable moments, but I don't plan to read the next book.

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